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Impact banking on experience as MLS season begins

Montreal Impact Patrice Bernier plays with a ball during the first day of training camp Montreal, Monday, January 21, 2013.

Paul Chiasson/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Lineup choices carry both implicit and explicit messages. In the case of the Montreal Impact, the starting XI fairly screams: "We're here for a good time, not a long time."

When the Impact takes the pitch for their Major League Soccer 2013 season-opener in Seattle on Saturday, it's expected they'll field a veteran squad that includes seven players in their 30s.

With the exception of Serie A loan Andrea Pisani, it's also the same starting alignment that finished seventh in the 10-team Eastern Conference as an expansion squad.

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The expectation is simple: Win. Now.

As befits a grizzled group, the new sense of urgency is welcome.

"It's a good pressure. Last year, no one wanted to say it, but the reality is you always have that excuse that you're a first-year team," 33-year-old midfielder Patrice Bernier said.

Last year, Bernier joked, "we were like a small child. Now, we're a little bit more like a teenager and trying to show we're an adult."

The players are under no illusion that, in a lot cases, jobs depend on capturing one of the five playoff slots in the conference.

"We know that we have the team to win games … we have enough older guys and enough veteran guys to get the job done, and that's what we expect from ourselves," captain Davy Arnaud said.

While there is continuity on the field, the Impact will have a new figure prowling the technical area, well-travelled Swiss head coach Marco Schallibaum.

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The 50-year-old has a longer coaching pedigree than Jesse Marsch, deposed last fall, and should be a better fit with his squad's sizable contingent of Italians, led by striker Marco Di Vaio, and central defenders Alessandro Nesta and Matteo Ferrari.

"I'm the boss," Schallibaum said this week, "the team must trust me, but I must also trust the team."

The former Swiss international has brought a continental feel to his new club. He's implemented a short-passing game, and set about dealing with the Impact's problem areas from last season, namely defending on set-pieces and holding their shape tactically in road games.

Montreal also gifted far too many points in the last quarter hour of games – a trend that led to a change of fitness coaches in the off-season. (Presumably, it's also calculated keep older players healthy, as bench depth could be an issue.)

By bringing in Pisani, a former Bologna teammate of Di Vaio's who can play up front or on the right flank, the club is clearly trying to create more and better service from the wings to their first designated player, who struggled to score last season and will be the fulcrum of the attack again this year.

Though the Impact won a preseason tournament in Orlando against MLS opposition, their effectiveness going forward is still a work in progress, Bernier said.

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"[Di Vaio] makes a lot of great runs but, sometimes, the timing is off of when we're delivering the ball – I think offensively we'll get better," he said.

The team's player of the year in its maiden MLS season, Bernier has been handed a deep-lying, holding role – in a 4-1-4-1 or 4-2-3-1 alignment – and clearly isn't enamoured with it.

"I won't get to go forward as much, which is … different," he said.

Bernier didn't see eye-to-eye with Marsch, but this season there's no time to nurture grievances. There are points to be won.

IN

Marco Schällibaum, manager,

Andrea Pisani, M/F,

Andres Romero, M/F,

Blake Smith, M,

Wandrille Lefevre, M,

Maxime Tissot, LB.

OUT

Jesse Marsch, manager,

Bernardo Corradi, F,

Eddy Sebrango, F,

Lamar Neagle, M,

Shavar Thomas, D,

Josh Gardner, M/D,

Miguel Montano, F

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About the Author
National Correspondent

Sean Gordon joined the Globe's Quebec bureau in 2008 and covers the Canadiens, Alouettes and Impact, as well as Quebec's contingent of Olympic athletes. More

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